She walks pidgeon-footed onto the patio, a crooked smile broadening onto a bright face. Each step is calculated, like the careful foot to foot of a tight-rope walker. The nerves are coming back in her legs, but her reflexes are still diminished. She stumbles about the house without her splints – a fact of pride and concern. The bruises on her legs demonstrate that walking is not yet second nature.
“How is your day, Dad?”
“It’s better now, sweet pea.”
“Oh!” She gestures coyly, nodding her head down and to the side in a forced show of dramatic aplomb that would have made Joan Crawford blush.
She drags a lawn chair towards me, careful to make the chairs touch at the armrests. Propping her feet up next to mine on the stone fire ring in our backyard, she settles back under the evening sky and makes small talk with me. Her phrases are buoyant, but matter-of-fact. Her train of thought ambles about in unpredictable directions, but her spirit remains the same.
Sometimes, her wild mind drives us crazy. She’s a chatter-box. The words spill from her mouth as fast as her mind can churn them out. In fact, I’m convinced this is a coping mechanism. She has difficulty with short-term memory. I think she sometimes forgets what she wants to say mid-sentence. So she rushes to assemble her thoughts in words, leading to a littany of ideas; a stream of consciousness cast out as quickly as her mind can conjure it.
Two weeks ago, she began at a new school – her third in two years. She likes it, especially the playground. What she most likes is the bus. When it arrived in front of our house earlier this week, she couldn’t wait to saddle her backpack and ride the boxy yellow chariot. I watched her board the other day. She beamed with pride as she took her seat. And I stood and admired the resilience of the girl. She never stands down, never dwells maudlin. Life for her is stitched together with hopeful surprises and pleasant experience. She has learned to love the day, an example I am often reminded to recognize.
Jeanette and I sometimes lose sight of this beautiful quality in our daughter. It is easy to overlook the girl in the patient when so much time is spent negotiating insurance claims, shuttling to outpatient therapies and balancing cancer treatment with the rigors of family life. But we are often reminded of Jordan’s charm and character and tenacious, relentless power.
Several weeks ago, during one of her visits to the hospital for chemo, she sat near to another patient who was having a bad day. The child threshed and screamed and fought the nurses with every gasping breath. He resisted the IV as though it was a venomous viper. The experience is not unusual. In fact, there have been visits when Jordan was every bit as resistant. But this day, she willingly assisted her caregivers. She told jokes and laughed and carried on conversation as though the gathering were a tea party. And the other parents looked on and wondered. They laughed with her and drew the attention away from their troubled kids to the chatty girl with the fresh pair of pajamas. And the mother of the threshing boy remarked, “look at that little girl. See how she has fun.”